The Driving Force in My Life

Most people have favorite things: foods, colors, songs, books, authors, movies, coffee shops, etc. Having a “favorite” anything means you have experienced similar other things and have decided a certain one means more to you than all the rest. I am no different. I have favorite songs, authors, books, coffee shops, movies, and foods. It would be difficult for me to say I have a favorite Bible verse. I do however have what I would refer to as a life verse. It is a verse that speaks to where I am on my spiritual journey. It is a verse that provides a sense of motivation, clarity, and purpose. It sets the course for my days. The prophet Jeremiah wrote,

“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7) 

The context for this verse is a letter written by Jeremiah to the Israelites who had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and relocated to Babylon. Jeremiah encourages them to make Babylon their home, go about their daily activities, and seek to be a blessing to their captives. A difficult charge indeed. It would be difficult to consider being a blessing to those who robbed you of your home. It would be difficult to consider being a blessing to those whom you have been enslaved. It would be difficult to consider being a blessing to the people who removed you from your familiar place of worship and introduced you to foreign gods.

I can relate to this verse. It says something about the way I approach life. I do not equate pastoring a church to being carried away as a captive to a foreign land. Quite the opposite. Serving the Lord through the gospel ministry brings great fulfillment, joy, pleasure to my life. I would not want to be doing anything else with my life. However, I can relate to how the exiled Israelites must have felt. I understand what it is like to move away from the familiar and comfortable. I understand what it is like to leave family and friends. I understand what it is like to have assurance of how long I may remain in a certain place. I understand what it is like to become familiar with new routines, schedules, and people.

Jeremiah told Israel the surest way for their city to prosper would be for them to pray for its peace and welfare. God Himself placed Israel in Babylon for a season and with a purpose. It may not have always been peaceful for them as captives. The assurance of God’s placement would enable them to find and live in peace. For a city to experience God’s blessings, the people of God occupying the city must, through prayer, seek its welfare and peace (literally its wellness and wholeness).

I believe with all my heart that God has placed me where He has for a reason and a season. I believe He has done the same in the past. It is my duty, privilege, and responsibility to pray for the peace of the city where I have been placed and to the best of my ability be a blessing to that city. I have committed my life to this end. This verse is more than just an obscure Old Testament verse. It fuels me to faithfully serve the cities and people God has allowed me to be carried away captive for Him.

Friday Is For Scripture : Hosea 3:1-3

1 Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans. ” 2 So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. 3 And I said to her, “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you.”

Often you will find powerful and challenging stories of God’s dealings with His people in the more obscure and skimmed-over books of the Bible. Such is the case with the book of Hosea. It is one of those books that rarely sees the light of day. It is one of those books where there are likely few, if any, hand-written notes in the margin. It is one of those books that you need the table of contents to find. That being said, the book of Hosea contains, in my opinion, one of the clearest portraits of God’s love to be found anywhere in the Bible. It is the story of God’s man Hosea and his prostitute wife Gomer. God directed Hosea to marry this woman with knowledge of her past and, what she will do in the future. Gomer continues in her ways and finds herself the property of another man who is not her husband. In the beginning of chapter three we find Hosea, again following the voice of God, off to take back his wife. Hosea finds his wife this time on an auction block, for sale, available to anyone with enough money. Imagine the shame in Hosea’s eyes and on his face as he sees his adulterous wife for sale. Imagine the anger swelling up inside of him as he looks upon her and sees what her sins have done. Imagine the whispers and finger-pointing of those present at the auction that day. Imagine God demanding this much obedience. So, Hosea pays the price and buys back his wife. Most definitely a story of crazy love.

Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is a symbol of God’s love for the nation of Israel. Time and time again they left the faithful love of God and played the harlot to other gods. However, God remained true. This story is also about us. Hosea bought his wife off the auction block. The word for “bought” in verse three is the word ‘redeem’, which literally means “to purchase with a price”. There was a time in our lives what we were in a similar position to Gomer; enslaved, imprisoned, and held hostage to the power and control of sin. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of mankind was the ransom price that it took to free us. He has bought us back. He redeemed us. His blood was the purchase price. How do we respond? Do we seek constant communion with Him in prayer, or do we seek Him only when we can’t handle things ourselves. Do we share His wonderful love with others, or do we hope and count on someone else to do it? Do we follow his direction and guidance in our daily lives, regardless of where he leads, or do we just tell God that we know better?

Worth Repeating

“…if the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. For the good news is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life for us, or even that death, the great enemy, is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (of which the resurrection is a proof); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; and that therefore all who believe in him can look forward to heaven. …Emulation of Christ’s life and teaching is possible only to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death (though it is that) but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father; and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.

Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the ‘one mediator’, who gave himself for us.”

James Montgomery Boice, The Centrality of the Cross

Missional Monday : Go Fish Clothing and Jewelry Co.

A few weeks ago, Terri and I were shopping along the waterfront area of downtown Beaufort. While walking along Bay Street, we happened across as a little storefront, Go Fish® Clothing and Jewelry. The name captured my attention and we went inside. We noticed there were many kinds of handmade items from artisans all around world, including hand-crafted wooden animals, blown glass figurines, hand-made clothing, and all types of jewelry. Alongside each display was a portrait of the family who had made the product, as well as a description of the country in which the family lives. Go Fish® purchases the items that are sold in stores from the indigenous peoples of developing nations. The prices that are paid for the items are never argued. Merchandise is bought at the family’s asking price. The mission of Go Fish® is to give the indigenous people dignity and respect by highlighting their creativity and skill, while providing a sustainable livelihood for the family. I found it refreshing that amid stores selling everything from swimsuits to real estate, a company living out its missional calling exists. You can read more about Go Fish® and their work here.

Sleeping Through Christmas

Today is Christmas. Much will happen today. Children will open gifts from under the tree that have taunted them for weeks. Families will gather today with those they have not seen in a very long time. Many will gather in houses of worship to celebrate the reason for the season. For the most part, the thoughts and focus of today will be on cultural traditions and not on the true meaning of why there is Christmas in the first place. We would not be the first ones to miss out on the reason for Christmas. In the Casting Crowns song, “While You Were Sleeping”, they write:

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you’re lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left His throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
For God became a man
And stepped into your world today
Oh Bethlehem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

 Bethlehem was physically sleeping. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Son of God was born into the world among them. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the Savior of the world was born in a lowly stable with no fan fare, no attention, and no honor due a King. While the residents of Bethlehem slept, the landscape of the known world, and those to come, changed forever. The residents of Bethlehem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.” They go on to write:

Oh little town of Jerusalem
Looks like another silent night
The Father gave His only Son
The Way, the Truth, the Life had come
But there was no room for Him in the world He came to save
Jerusalem, what you have missed while you were sleeping
The Savior of the world is dying on your cross today
Jerusalem, you will go down in history
As a city with no room for its King
While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

Jerusalem was spiritually sleeping. Thirty-plus years later, people were sleeping. This time, the residents of Jerusalem slept while the Son of God hung on a cross. The residents of Jerusalem slept while Jesus died for their sin. The residents of Jerusalem slept while the Messiah, the One the religious leaders were looking for and ought to have recognized,  gave His life for the people who cried “Crucify Him.” He came as their writings and witnesses said He would. He had walked among them. He performed miracles. He taught. He loved. He testified of an for the Father. He yielded. He died. All for this while no one seemed to care. The residents of Jerusalem secured a place for themselves in history as “a city with no room for its King.”

Before we take the residents of Bethlehem and Jerusalem to task on their failure to understand the mission and person of Jesus Christ, notice again the words of Casting Crowns.

United States of America
Looks like another silent night
As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re lying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
For the Bridegroom has returned
And has carried His bride away in the night
America, what will we miss while we are sleeping
Will Jesus come again
And leave us slumbering where we lay
America, will we go down in history
As a nation with no room for its King
Will we be sleeping
Will we be sleeping

As a nation we are sleeping today. In the middle of the day, we’re sleeping. With the sun shining bright and eyes wide open, we’re sleeping. With the complete thoughts and mind God written for us that reveals our sin, points us to the cross, and calls us to die to self, we’re sleeping. Lullabies of tolerance, coexistence, and compromise rock a nation to sleep every night. Lullabies of “many paths to God”, “man is his own god”, and “feed what makes you feel good” enable a nation to peacefully sleep. Violence, hate, and greed are the most newsworthy items of our day. Most troubling is the fact that America seems to be sleeping well. What will it take to stir this nation from its sleep? What will happen to our nation if we continue to sleep? How long before God Himself says “that’s enough” and the Bridegroom splits the sky to receive His own? Will the residents America secure for themselves a place in history as “a city with no room for its King”?

Today is Christmas. We are reminded of the Luke’s words regarding this day. “Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

 

Missional Monday : Summer Ministry

mmNo school. Longer days. Scorching heat. This can only mean one thing – Summer. For families, it is a time for vacations, cookouts, and road trips – good things. For families, it is also a time of bored children and interrupted schedules – bad things. The things that are good for the family during the summer are in turn bad for the church. As families travel, attendance decreases in scheduled worship times. As families spend more time together, less time is spent in church ministry. This poses a difficulty for churches. Does the church accept the fact that summer is going to be a time of little or no activity, or does it take advantage of the season? At Port Royal Baptist Church, we take advantage of the summer season. Summer is our most productive season of ministry because we place a high value on summer ministry. Here’s why.

  1. School is out. There is a natural tendency for families to scatter with preexisting schedules being set aside for three months. It is our desire to give families something meaningful they can do together.
  1. Historically, churches take one of two positions during the summer: scale down or shut down. It is our desire to shatter the expectation that the church will be less effective during the summer by offering meaningful service opportunities. Although summer is a time of declining attendance, it doesn’t have to be that way. Meaning summer ministry is our way of reversing the tide.
  1. The community is very active during the summer. People are moving about the beaches, farmer’s markets, and community festivals. It is our desire to be active alongside them. We believe in discovering where the community is meeting and joining them.

Two things are important in making summer ministry important at Port Royal Baptist Church.

  1. Summer Family Ministry Challenge. Instead of surrendering the summer, we challenge our families to serve together. Our theme for 2016 will be “The Summer 70” and will run from June 11th – August 20th. Over the course of 70 days, there will be 14 service opportunities in 7 different locations. These ministries are varied: daytime and evening, weekday, and weekend. These ministries involve different skills and abilities, demographics, and ministry approaches. We intentionally schedule opportunities that allows the entire family to participate.
  1. Summer Sermon Series. I do something as a pastor during the summer that goes against all conventional wisdom. I break the unwritten rule: do not start anything new during the summer. During the summer, I lead our church in a sermon series that lasts about 10 weeks. I do this because it serves a connection point for our people. I want them to feel as if they missed something by not being there. The feedback has been good.

You may ask, “Isn’t that a lot for people to feel they have to be involved in?” Good question. Our philosophy for missions and community outreach is simple. We don’t want you to be involved in everything. It’s not possible. We ask that each one find the ministry that meets their passion and then give their heart and energy to it.

 

 

Speaking Church May Be Hurting Us

Within every profession, service industry, and organization, there are secret languages understood only by its members. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Starbucks and listen to the patrons order their favorite drink. You are likely to hear a combination of words and phrases that would lead you to believe aliens have landed from the far side of the moon. For example, my usual order at Starbucks sounds like this, “I’ll have a Venti bold with no room”. What I am saying to the barista is this, “I will have your largest and strongest coffee, and by the way, I do not need room for cream.” Businesses such as these have created an environment that requires the consumer to learn a language that is specific to the product they wish to consume. This may or may not be intentional. What they are saying is this “If you want to be part of our ‘group’ then you need to learn our language.” Sound unfair? Hold on. What about the church?

Before we blame the businesses for requiring us to learn a foreign language, let’s take a look at how the Christian church may be guilty. I believe many would agree that Christians have a specific lingo that we are comfortable with. We use phrases and words that we are comfortable with that may leave the first-time guest in our services scratching their head and asking “what are they talking about?” We use words such as advent, apostle, disciple, rapture, righteous, sanctification, elect, trinity, covenant, redemption, and salvation much like we would car, home, cheeseburger, chair, or grass. Phrases such as washed in the blood, give your heart to Jesus, profession of faith, and walk down the aisle roll off our church-influenced tongues the same way turn off the light, answer the phone, and wash the car do. Think of the questions that must run through the mind of the person who has never been in church before. Inside they may be asking, “Is that going to hurt?” “You’re asking me to do what?” “Is that legal?” I may be exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point.

As a pastor, I believe the church has a responsibility to remove barriers that may keep individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ from coming to know Him. Barriers such as personal preferences, fear, and past hurts are hard enough to overcome without imposing a new language for which Rosetta Stone hasn’t even written software. I am becoming increasingly aware, and fearful, that the guests in our worship services have no idea what we are talking about. What should we do? First, it is important to acknowledge the fact that we are guilty of speaking “church”. Second, I believe that every ministry leader, when writing announcements, newsletters, and ministry promotions, should filter everything through this question; “Will the words that I have written and spoken be clearly understood by someone who has never been in church before?” We owe it to the first-time guest, the seeker, and the Christian desperately desiring to serve the Lord our commitment to remove the barriers that would hinder them, including our “church” talk.